Road racing is an endurance event conducted over varying distances. Depending on the cyclists age, ability and category, road races vary from 5km to 260km and road courses also vary from hilly, flat, mountainous or a combination of these.
Road races are conducted as massed start or handicap events. Because of the distinct advantage gained from sitting-on/drafting, bunches form. The number of bunches in a race will vary on how the race evolves. In many cases there is one big bunch.
The number of participants in an event vary on the popularity of a given event with some open category races attracting up to 200 participants. Throughout the duration of an event any number of bunches may be formed with competitors taking turns of pace to improve their efficiency in order to ride faster.
TYPES OF ROAD RACES
Are high speed events conducted around tight technical circuits 800m-2km in length. Criteriums are much shorter in distance than road races.
INDIVIDUAL ROAD TIME TRIAL:
This is an individual event with each participant starting at given time intervals. This is a race against the clock where riders are not permitted to sit-on/draft other riders.
MULTI STAGE ROAD RACES:
Commonly referred to as Tours, the most famous event is the Tour de France which is 21 stages conducted over 23 days. Stage races can be made up of any number of stages and days. A stage can vary in distances from 5km to 260km and can include massed start races, criteriums and time trials. Each rider is timed for each stage and these times are added together. The rider with the lowest overall time is the race winner.
For road racing and criteriums a specific road bike with 2 hand brakes is required, they are sometimes referred to as “racers”. Road bikes now have up to 20 gears (speeds) for under 19, Open and Masters categories.
ROAD SKILL REQUIREMENTS
Below is a summary of skills required for road cycling.
Braking: - With races being conducted over varying terrains and bunch sizes, precise speed control is important. To avoid accidents and prevent cyclists making contact with each other, over running a corner or sliding out, brake control needs to be developed. In order to develop braking control it’s recommended to practice in a safe area like a sports oval, outdoor courts or an empty car park. Witches hats are a great tool to create a course to practice braking.
Descending:- Being able to descend safely down a hill is crucial. Having the appropriate descending skills will reduce the likelihood of accidents and improve the chances of success. Appropriate braking (ie knowing when, where and how much to brake) is important. Seek advice from a qualified Road Cycling coach.
Sitting on/drafting:- A cyclist sitting-on / drafting behind another can save about 30% of their energy at high speed, as they are shielded from the wind. With the advantages associated with sitting on/drafting, it is poor tactics not to do so. It’s important to practice sitting on/drafting before entering a race. Practice in a training ride by following behind another rider leaving a 1m gap and slightly to one side. Progressively move closer to the rider in front while maintaining focus on their lower back and rear wheel. Gradually reduce the gap when your confidence builds.
Bunch riding:- Road bunches can vary from 6-250 cyclists. The larger the bunch the more technical and tactical it is to ride. The skills mentioned above need to be developed for bunch riding.
RACE ETIQUETTE & BUNCH RIDING TIPS
For those taking part in their first cycle race on the road or are new to group training there are a few points to be aware of to avoid galls and to gain the confidence of others around you.
1. Be predictable with all actions. Maintain a steady straight line and avoid braking or changing direction suddenly, especially if contesting a sprint. Remember that there are riders following closely behind. To slow down gradually move out into the wind and slot back into position in the bunch.
2. Point and call out any road hazards ahead. These include pot-holes, drain grates, stray animals, opening car doors, parked cars, etc.
3. Don’t overlap wheels. A slight direction change or gust of wind could easily cause a touch of wheels.
4. Pedal down hill when at the front of a bunch. Cyclists dislike having to ride constantly under brakes.
5. Stay to the left when in front to allow room for others to pass safely on the right, particularly in traffic. Pass other riders on their right hand side whenever possible.
6. Be smooth with turns at the front of a group. Avoid surges unless trying to break from the bunch. A group will travel quicker when turns are completed smoothly.
7. Avoid leaving gaps when following wheels. Cyclists save about 30% of their energy at high speed by following a wheel. Each time a gap is left, riding is so much more difficult. Also, riders behind you will become annoyed and ride around you, especially if the bunch is working together to break away or catch a break-away group.
8. When climbing hills avoid following a wheel to closely. Many riders often lose their momentum when rising out of the seat in a hill which can cause a sudden deceleration. This can often catch a rider who is following too closely, resulting in a fall from a wheel touching
9. Don’t panic if contact is made with other riders. Try to stay relaxed in the upper body to absorb any bumps. Contact is a part of cycle racing in close bunches and is quite safe provided riders do not panic, brake or change direction suddenly.
Cycling Jargon can be confusing for the newcomer. Here are a few words and terms that may be used by cyclists around you.
ATTACK: A sudden explosive/aggressive surge in speed aimed at cycling away from another rider or group of riders.
BUNCH: A group of 6 or more cyclists. The main bunch in a race is often referred to as the peliton or pack.
BREAK/ BREAK AWAY: A rider or group of riders that have gained distance ahead of the main race bunch.
HANDICAPS: Some events grade riders based on their ability. This is determined from previous events. Generally all open events are graded.
SITTING-ON/ DRAFTING: This is where a cyclist rides directly behind another to conserve energy by slip streaming. A rider is shielded from the wind, which makes riding easier.
DROPPED: Describes riders that have failed to keep pace with the group/bunch they were riding with.
MASSED START: Events where all competitors line up together and leave the starting line at the same time.
KNICKS: Padded lycra bike shorts.
LEADOUT: A race tactic in which a rider accelerates to top speed for the benefit of another rider. The following rider uses the drafting effect to race past for the final sprint.
OPENS:An open event is a race in the National or State calendar. They are open to entries from all Cycling Australia members and apply to Road, Track and Mountain Bike racing.
PRIME (pronounced Preem): A special prize awarded to the race leader on selected laps of a Criterium race or the 1st rider to reach a specified land mark in a road race.
TIME TRIAL: Riders start individually at given time intervals and race against the clock. Cyclists ride by themselves, sitting-on/drafting is not allowed.
TURN: “Taking a turn” is where each rider rides at the front of their respective bunch or group in turns of 100 to 200m and then goes to the back of the bunch.